Several years ago, as talk started to gain momentum about the possibility of a world-class speedway being built near Fort Erie, Ont., I would tell people in emails as well as conversation that pigs would fly before that track ever saw the light of day.
Over the years, all sorts of people had talked about the need for a proper big-league speedway in these parts. I remember in particular one popular scenario that had land north of what is now Canada’s Wonderland as being perfect for such a project. It would be close to a large population centre (Toronto), a major highway (the 400) and yet far enough out of town (at the time) that the NIMBY crowd wouldn’t get too worked up about it.
But it never happened because of what seemed to be overwhelming obstacles:
1. Financing. Who would pay for it? A project of that magnitude (a mile, or mile-and-a-half speedway, and a road course with seating for 50,000-plus spectators as well as the infrastructure to support it would cost a fortune.
2. The Southern Ontario climate. How could anybody be able to generate enough business during our short racing season to make enough money to guarantee financiers a return-on-investment on a property that would cost millions?
3. What product would be available for presentation? There’s no doubt that people would fill the place the first couple of times, simply out of curiosity. But after that, what would the operators promote?
– NASCAR has been adamant that it will not race at that facility. The International Speedway Corp., which is run by the same family that operates NASCAR, owns tracks at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Jackson, Mich. (Michigan International) and has said repeatedly that it will not race at any facility in this region other than those two.
– The Grand Am Series is very much a part of NASCAR and if NASCAR has no interest in a Fort Erie speedway it would be highly unlikely that the Grand Am would. In any event, the Grand Am doesn’t draw flies (other than for the Daytona 24).
– The American Le Mans Series is owned by the same fellow who owns Mosport. Guess which series wouldn’t be racing at Fort Erie?
– The ARCA stock car series or the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series aren‘t big enough draws.
– The Indy Racing League has a contract for two more years in Toronto. It’s possible that the Honda Indy could someday run at Fort Erie, but not in the short term. And besides, one major event a season wouldn’t be enough to make such a project practical.
As I said, when pigs fly.
But then, certain things started to happen.
– There was a highly publicized public meeting two weeks ago when Fort Erie Town Council gave the speedway its unanimous approval.
– A less publicized meeting of the Niagara Region’s planning committee several days after the first one also saw a vote to approve.
- Financiing seems to be in place.
– And the latest issue of Inside Track magazine hit newsstands last week featuring an exclusive interview with Jeff Gordon, who officially went on record with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Greg MacPherson, as being involved as a partner.
(For a number of years, Gordon’s name had been linked to the project – but never publicly. In fact, one of the first times I interviewed prime mover Jay Mason about the speedway, he hinted that there was a high profile NASCAR driver in his camp. "I can’t tell you his name, but he’s big," he said.)
Now, the Fort Erie-based Canadian Motor Speedway is officially a "Jeff Gordon Design signature speedway" and that can’t help but give the project the legitimacy it needs going forward.
One of the guys I used to exchange "pigs will fly" emails with sent me a message toward the end of last week.
"I’m thinking that the Fort Erie track may make it. There’s a professionalism and, along with lots of $$$, they are doing things right."
He may be on to something. I know I’m starting to change my mind, too.
There’s still lots of work to do, and hurdles to clear. And it’s not a done deal. Far from it.
But the Canadian Motor Speedway is a lot closer to reality today that it’s ever been before and those of us who love the sport can only hope those directly involved can retain their focus and stay the course.
Because, if it happens, it will be wonderful.